Can Anyone Stop Hillary?

Why Clinton's 2016 candidacy-without-a-campaign dominates the political galaxy

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Photo-illustration by Justin Metz for TIME. Pants: Don Farrall–Getty Images, Man: BLOOM image–Getty Images, Shoe: yasinguneysu–Getty Images

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Lesser figures--mere governors, Senators, Vice Presidents--face mounting pressure to decide whether to run for President: there are so many pieces to accumulate and put into place. To an astonishing degree, Clinton already has all the pieces: universal name recognition, fervently devoted followers from coast to coast, a robust donor network, legions of experienced counselors, personal mastery of the issues. And she has the cream of two generations of Democratic operatives scrambling to assemble these pieces on her behalf. Her unofficial apparatus already includes a grassroots operation, Ready for Hillary, that has raised more than $4 million in predominantly small donations; a super PAC called Priorities USA Action, to groom megadonors to fund future air wars; a rapid-response team, Correct the Record, primed to shoot down criticism; a think tank, the Center for American Progress, ready to work up white papers and field-test applause lines; and a women's network, Emily's List, eager to rally the sisterhood to smash the glass ceiling at last.

Clinton has not decided whether to run for President because to do so would only slow her down. Lots of people can be a presidential candidate--ask Patrick Buchanan or Dennis Kucinich or Herman Cain. There is only one Hillary able to dominate discussion of 2016 even as she sails above it. Indecision serves her well by preserving flexibility in her schedule, by shielding her from answering every Internet controversy and by allowing the Republican opposition to take shape and draw fire.

How long can this go on? Longer than you might think. The typical reasons for a candidate to "decide"--credibility with donors and voters, access to media, ability to recruit staff, leverage to secure endorsements--wouldn't move Clinton because she already has those things. There's not a door she can't open nor a camera she can't command. Last year, Clinton told interviewer Barbara Walters that she would make a decision in 2014, but some sources in her camp, who generally speak about 2016 only if granted anonymity, suggest that it was a ballpark figure. By saying 2014 while the calendar said 2013, Clinton was merely indicating that her decision was a long way off. "If you polled 25 smart political people and you asked them on a strategic tactical level if a presidential candidate should be doing anything in 2014, they would tell you no," said one insider. "No one in the history of the Republic has started to run this far out."

There's that word again: run. We know from biographers that Team Clinton actually started running for President sometime in the 1960s, when young Bill fretted about preserving his political viability while avoiding the Vietnam draft. If they ever stopped running, it was only in a semantic sense. Along with her husband, the former First Lady is the embodiment of the so-called permanent campaign, in which years blur into an endless loop of staged events and solicitations for money and skirmishing for control of the next news cycle. If that's not running, what is?

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